"I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS," Romney said. "I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you, too. But I'm not going to - I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That's No. 1."
And Romney repeatedly sought to find the middle ground on health care, regulations and the like. He contended that his national health care plan to replace Obamacare would cover people with pre-existing conditions - but he hasn't detailed how beyond what current law allows. He defended his Massachusetts health care overhaul that Obama used as the template for his health care law, but he said that should be a model for states on a state level and not imposed at the federal level.
And he repeatedly hammered Obama on the $716 billion in cuts to Medicare providers in that law. Obama did point out that those cuts do not affect beneficiaries, but payments to insurance companies.
Romney dug in when it came to taxes, saying he did not favor raising any taxes to reduce the deficit. That would hurt growth and jobs, Romney said.
"I don't want to kill jobs in this environment," he said, while accusing the economy under Obama of imposing an "economy tax" on people.
Obama, however, repeatedly criticized Romney for failing to provide specifics.
"He's been asked over 100 times" how he would pay for his tax plan by identifying which loopholes he would eliminate. "He hasn't been able to identify them," Obama said.
And Obama sought to defend his signature health care law - telling Romney at one point, "I like it" when people refer to it as "Obamacare." The president said his policies would make sure insurance companies can't "jerk you around" and would give millions of people with pre-existing conditions access to affordable health insurance.
And he said the Medicare plan proposed by Romney running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would ultimately hurt existing seniors as well. That plan would provide vouchers to future Medicare beneficiaries to buy insurance from private companies.
"Over time what will happen is the traditional Medicare system will collapse," Obama said.